Part of Townes Van Zandt’s appeal, especially early in his career, was his undeniable charisma. Tall, dark, lanky with a wry sense of humor, it was hard to resist his charms, not to mention his brilliant way with lyrics and music.
Steve Earle said, “It was like catching lightning in a bottle. Back then, I saw him give some of the best performances I saw anyone give.”
I never had the opportunity to see Townes live, but I’ve listened to his live recordings and it’s clear he knew how to work a room.
When asked about the original of his lyrics, Townes said they usually came to him in dreams. In “Rake,” he laments his life as a rapscallion … the imagery shimmers on the page, traveling up and down the spine upon listening.
When they were touring on the coffee house circuit Townes and Steve spent endless hours reading the work of Dylan Thomas to each other. The time was well spent. Read without music, the lyrics stand with the best. Add the haunting melody and you have a song that lingers long after the last note is played.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I used to wake and run with the moon
I lived like a rake and a young man
I covered my lovers with flowers and wounds
My laughter, the Devil would frighten
The sun, she would come and beat me back down
But every cruel day had its nightfall
I’d welcome the stars with wine and guitars
Full of fire and forgetful
My body was sharp, the dark air clean
And outrage my joyful companion
Whisperin’ women, how sweet did they seem
Kneelin’ for me to command them
And time was like water but I was the sea
I’d have never noticed it passin’
Except for the turnin’ of night into day
And the turnin’ of day into cursin’
You look at me now and don’t think I don’t know
What all your eyes are a sayin’
Does he want us to believe these ravings and lies
They’re just tricks that his brains been a playin’?
A lover of women, he can’t hardly stand
He trembles, he’s bent and he’s broken
I’ve fallen it’s true but I say unto you
Hold your tongues until after I’ve spoken
I was takin’ my pride in the pleasures I’d known
I laughed and thought I’d be forgiven
But my laughter turned ’round eyes blazing and
Said my friend, we’re holdin’ a wedding
I buried my face but it spoke once again
The night to the day we’re a bindin’
And now the dark air is like fire on my skin
And even the moonlight is blinding
Click here to listen to a 1969 recording of “Rake.”
Click here to watch a clip of Joe Ely talking about his first meeting with Townes – from the documentary “Be Here To Love Me.”
Click here to watch Little Heroes’ cover of “Rake.” Does my Townes-loving heart good to hear his songs performed by up and coming artists.